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Posts Tagged ‘Deuteronomy’

“For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

“Living in the Gift of God”

A good way to understand how the world works without Christ is to pick up one of those magazines near your grocery store check-out line.  Good looks are exalted.  Wealth is celebrated.  Look also at your television, and you see popularity held in high esteem.  Look out the window in your neighborhood, and you find people with well-manicured lawns respected more than those with messes in their front yards.

Do not get me wrong.  An attractive physical countenance can signal health and conscientiousness.  Wealth may be an indicator for wisdom and perseverance.  Popularity may simply be the logical outcome of someone who considers their neighbor and cares for the well-being of the community.  Well-manicured lawns might belong to those who are diligent and care for the feelings of their neighbors.  All these things may be true.  And certainly health, conscientiousness, wisdom, perseverance, neighborliness, and diligence are all good things.

Yet Holy Scripture keeps pointing to what is going on underneath the surface.  In Proverbs xiv.12 we read:  “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.”

Rules and standards are tricky things.  We rightly teach our children to make their beds in the morning and brush their teeth before turning in for the night.  But following rules and standards is not ultimately helpful.  Reading God’s word to us in the Holy Bible as taught by Holy Church, we see that the law kills but the spirit gives life.

All the things of this world are mutable, or changeable.  They have their time, and then they pass away.  We rarely have belongings of those who lived only a few generations before us.  I mentioned my family’s cavalry saber from the Battle of Atlanta and others were surprised we still had ours.  There used to be regiments full of them shiny in parade; now the few remaining are battered and scattered.  That is only a hundred and fifty years ago.

Even huge monuments fall to dust.  The great Temple in Jerusalem is reduced to a single wall.  The Colossus at Rhodes has fallen long ago.  The Great Library in Alexandria burned fourteen centuries ago and its remains have been raided into oblivion long before today.  The things of this world suffer corruption and death.

But God would have us look beyond the things of this world, beyond the things of corruption and death.  He says to Moses more than three thousand years ago in Deuteronomy xxx.19:

I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live:

God wants us to live.  He hates that we fell away from him in the garden he made for us.  He hates that Adam and Eve ran and hid from him and that we run and hide from him even today.  He loves us and wants us with him.  He wants to give us things which last forever, like life and love and communion with each other.

But we go off and chase after the things of this world.  Each and every one of us is predisposed to do so, and we sure enough go ahead and follow our predispositions.  We are like silly birds which love things which are shiny and flashy.  We would rather eat dessert all day than sit down to a proper meal which would nourish us.

And what do we have after all those temporary joys and delights?  What do we have after we have indulged our sweet tooth, slept in instead of worked hard, socialized with our friends instead of spent hard quiet work on ourselves?  We have nothing.  It is all gone.  Both the simple and fancy joys which we follow build up nothing permanent in our lives.

But God shows us a better way.  Two chapters after today’s Epistle, St. Paul succinctly states (viii.6):  “For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.”

St. Peter sums up what is missing in his first Epistle (1 St. Peter i.3-4):

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you,

On our own, we can do nothing that builds up treasure in heaven, only treasure on earth which rots and can be stolen.  But with Christ, the Son of God made man for our salvation, we can have a most marvelous inheritance – “incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you”.  What we cannot do on our own, Christ can do for us.

Last week, little Avery Elizabeth was Baptized back there at our Baptismal font.  She entered into eternal life there, though her mortal body may die a hundred years from now.  She now tastes Heaven.  She has been buried and Resurrected in Christ’s Crucifixion and Resurrection through the mystical waters of Holy Baptism.

Each one of us who has believed in our Lord Christ and been Baptized into His death and Resurrection have a part of that marvelous inheritance that will glory in God’s presence for all times, even past the end of this world.  We who are justified in Christ participate in His life, his love, and His communion both with God the Father and each of us.

St. Paul writes this famous phrase exactly about this salvation and what we do next in his Epistle to the Romans:  “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

This separation from God and reliance upon the world and ourselves is sin.  In Spanish, the word sin means without.  That’s a fine way of remembering what sin is.  We think of sin as a thing, a substance.  It is not.  It is a lack, a brokenness.

But funny enough, when we serve sin, sin pays us for our service.  The more we serve sin, the more sin pays us.  And sin always pays on time.  But as St. Paul writes, sin pays its wages in death.

Fr. Melville Scott said:

Sin has wages; sin has its end; and both the wages and the end is death. The wages are the immediate, the end is the final consequences of sin. The immediate consequences of sin are death, for each sin diminishes our capacity for life intellectual, moral, and spiritual. Sin darkens the intellect, blunts the conscience, and deadens all the faculties of the soul. These consequences are wages, for every sin has its just recompense and reward paid down surely and punctually when we sin. As wages are paid for each day’s labour, so also for each day’s sin. We have not to wait till the final reckoning, for we receive our reward by instalments, though the final reckoning and end of sin is death.

Contrast this to what St. Paul says about what happens when you serve God:  “but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  When you serve God, you earn no wages.  In fact, you cannot earn anything.  Instead, God gives you a most wonderful gift:  eternal life.  And God the Father does not simply give you the gift of eternal life, he gives the gift of eternal life “through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

In Holy Baptism, we are raised with Christ from the dead.  Therefore, it is not only that we must choose between life and death, but rather that our new life in Christ means that we have already passed through death in Christ’s Resurrection into life everlasting.

We who have new life in Christ have already participated in death.  Man without Christ will die the death and continue in his separation from God for all eternity.  But those with Christ will die the death now in this life through Christ’s death and live forevermore with God in Christ’s Resurrection!  The old man must die, the sinful self must die, the wages of sin indeed is death, which shows that in the midst of life we die to the old and put on the new.

St. Paul exhorts us:  “for as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness.”  Now that we live in Christ, we ought to serve Him just as well as we served sin before we were joined into Christ’s death and Resurrection.

After God claims us for his own in Holy Baptism, after we are separated from the wicked world, after we are made holy in Christ, so we must live in the result of that powerful divine action, which is living holy lives.  Our old selves are dead, we are alive in Christ, and now our lives must change.

St. Paul continues:  “But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.”

As we are devoted to and focused upon God, the things of sin and confusion float away.  We still live in the same world, but we are altered.  Our course through this world is altered.  Having followed Christ and been Baptized into His death and Resurrection, we no longer have the same friends, go to the same places, speak the same words, and sin as comfortably as we once did.

Now we find a different way.  We follow a way now of life in many different ways.  We affirm were once we killed.  We pass by what once enticed us.  We pay attention where we once fled.  We are different, *therefore* we behave differently, act differently, live our life differently.  People notice that something about us has changed.  We bring into the lives of those around us something of which we have been given:  Life, righteousness, and holiness.

Living in right relation to the Lord God creator and ruler of the universe and to our Lord and Savior, our course through our mortal life, how we live our daily life is altered even as we begin to taste immortal life.

We give thanks to God and respond joyfully to serving him, following him with greater ardor and devotion day by day.  Today we build upon yesterday.  Remember the good things of God yesterday?  We build upon them with greater fervor today.  We reach with hope the greater things we have yet to fully experience.

We are not magically rid of all sin in our lives like we have nothing to do with it.  Instead, because of our freedom from death, our foretaste of the good things of God, and the liberation from shameful lusts and such, we are to strive more earnestly to do good in our lives.  We are a gifted people, and thus we are a thankful people.  We live lives of freedom from sin and death, but we must strive earnestly for our good Lord.  By calling him lord, we thus place ourselves into his service and work together towards his goal.

Where we once easily and lazily accomplished much for sin and selfishness, so now we must pledge ourselves over to doing good works and loving one another in participation with His redeeming loving-kindness.

If you have a gift of hospitality, then invite people warmly and entertain them well, giving them a break from the cares of the world and entering a small communion of happiness and joy showing forth the larger communion.  This is an important gift.

If you have a gift of organizing, then help people accomplish together in the Lord’s Name what they could not do separately.  If you have a gift of work with your hands, then work for the physical welfare of the church and the world.  If you have a gift of intercessory prayer, then pray to our good God for the spiritual welfare of God’s people and those still lost.

Let us each work together as mutual servants of our good Lord and build upon the goodness of yesterday with the good hope of tomorrow.

Let us take His gift of eternal life and strive to serve our Lord Jesus Christ in all we do.

“For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

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“If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things which concern mine infirmities.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

While St. Paul seldom boasts in his letters, he makes up for it here.  But the Corinthians have it coming.  For even though he evangelized them, they turned their back on him as soon as the Judaizers followed him, preaching that the Corinthians had to follow the Jewish Law in order to be truly Christian.  Thus, they felt that they were superior to St. Paul and his apostolic teaching.  He shows in this Epistle that, if they had any reason to have confidence in the flesh, then he had more.  He shows that he places his trust in Christ, rather than in the Law, more confidence in his weaknesses, than his supposed strengths.  Like a fool, he boasts in his weakness and the sufferings he had endured for Christ.  He powerfully shows his anger at, and disappointment in, the Corinthians.

This boasting in Christ instead of in his own merits records for posterity the sufferings St. Paul endured as a minister of the Gospel and Apostle to the Gentiles.  Indeed, his account of suffering here far exceeds what is recorded in the Acts of the Apostles.  When we compare our suffering for the Gospel to his, we fall shamefully short.  We are pitiful compared to this hero of the faith who claimed his efforts were pitiful compared to Christ.  That should give us a proper perspective to consider our work on behalf of the Gospel of Christ.  What he freely gave again and again, we carefully guard and hold back again and again.

Let’s look at the Epistle verse by verse.

Verse 20:  “Ye suffer fools gladly, seeing ye yourselves are wise. For ye suffer, if a man bring you into bondage, if a man devour you, if a man take of you, if a man exalt himself, if a man smite you on the face.”  The Corinthians have been duped and treated poorly, and yet they think themselves superior to St. Paul!  They have mindlessly obeyed, spent lavishly on, been taken advantage of by, and submitted themselves to false teachers, like fools following whatever goofy fad ensnares the Hollywood elite.  If they can hearken to such fakers, then they can listen to St. Paul.

Verse 21:  “I speak as concerning reproach, as though we had been weak. Howbeit whereinsoever any is bold, (I speak foolishly,) I am bold also.”  St. Paul says here, “as though we had been weak” although it was the Corinthians themselves who had been foolishly led.  He then leads into his major premise:  If anyone actually has reason to boast, you can be assured that he has more.

Verse 22:  “Are they Hebrews? so am I. Are they Israelites? so am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? so am I.”  Here begins the boasting, although he had reiterated that this whole line of commentary is foolish.  He is every bit as Jewish as the Judaizer heretics are.  They have no superiority here.

Verse 23:  “Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft.”  If he is every bit as Jewish as they are, then note too that St. Paul has suffered greatly for the Gospel of our Lord in work, scourgings, prison time, and being surrounded by death.  They have nothing on him one way, and they have nothing on him the other.

Verse 24:  “Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one.”  Deuteronomy xxv.1-3 prescribes the maximum number of lashes allowable under the Law of Moses as forty.  In order to not inadvertently exceed this number, the number given was thirty-nine, so if they lost count, they did not violate the Law.  So St. Paul has received the maximum allowable scourging on five separate occasions.  This is not recorded elsewhere in Scripture.  We have here proof that St. Paul did many heroic things which were not recorded elsewhere in the New Testament.  We see here that the Jews persistently and with great determination attempted to shut St. Paul up.

Verse 25:  “Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep;”  This verse is a traditional favorite of youth groups.  “Beaten with rods” was a Roman punishment, showing Roman hostility in addition to the previously noted Jewish hostility.  The whole world seemed to work against the Apostle to the Gentiles, seeking to silence the proclamation of the Good News.  He was stoned, the same punishment for which he held the coats of those who martyred St. Stephen.  He was shipwrecked three times before his voyage to Rome recounted in the Acts.  He spent “a night and a day” marooned in the open ocean, adrift at sea.  This is a tale of high adventure greater than one by Robert Louis Stevenson!

Verse 26:  “In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren;”  He moves here to a nearly hypnotic repetition of where he had been in trouble.  What a catalog!  Who among us except the most seasoned travelers have even been to such a variety of places, much less suffered for our great Incarnate God there?  As for me, I think I have only been mildly in peril once by my own countrymen.  So many of our fellow saints have followed the way of St. Paul, have followed the way of Christ!  So much suffering, and for such a good cause!

Verse 27:  “In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness.”  We see here that not only has he suffered grave dangers, but he has survived in brutal discomfort.  I got a little chilly the other week.  Despite my own disease, I suffer not from watchings, hunger, thirst, cold, and nakedness.  When I think that I have it rough, I can think of the saints of old – and of today elsewhere in the world – and remember that we are promised no comfort save that of Christ and the Holy Ghost.  The correct perspective of our actual situation helps us govern our emotions and expectations, keeping us faithful and drawing us closer in loving-kindness to the Son of God.

Verse 28:  “Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches.”  And what follows the tribulations of torture, shipwreck, fasting, nakedness, and such?  The burden of “care of all the churches”.  Think of that the next time we welcome Archbishop Haverland to our fair parish.  Daily external hardships are only part of the apostle’s suffering.  The internal weight of the care of parishes, the burden of pastoral authority, the cure of souls is of such import that St. Paul mentions it in this privileged place in his list.

He remembers the churches he has founded.  He prays for them.  As we can see in his letters, also called epistles, St. Paul is constantly sending someone to visit a church for him, constantly pressing on to another mission site, disputing publicly in yet another city, being thrown into yet another jail for challenging the authority of the leaders of the synagogue.  St. Paul certainly cares for this church in Corinth, but he cares for many others as well.  This alone should chasten the Corinthians that they have been singled out for such a rant.  But St. Paul cares about the churches which he has not even visited, putting the Corinthians even more to their shame.

Verse 29:  “Who is weak, and I am not weak? who is offended, and I burn not?”  Many Christians throughout his mission field are weak and many suffer indignations every day.  And St. Paul is right there with them in body and in spirit.  He is weak when they are weak.  And he burns when they are offended.  He is not ashamed to say that he is weak; remember, he started today’s Epistle with saying as much.  And indeed, this leads to the next verse.

Verse 30:  “If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things which concern mine infirmities.”  St. Paul “will glory of the things which concern mine infirmities.”  This is madness in the eyes of the world.  Glory in my infirmities?  Infirmities are to be dismissed, saying “that’s nothing”, or they are to be denied, like saying that instead of being disabled I am “otherly abled”, or infirmities are to be pitied and raged against with anger and venom.

But our apostle is doing something different than our broken and deranged natural inclinations would have us do.  He is glorying in his weakness.  He is completely dependent upon his good God.  The entire world is against him, Jews and Romans both.  Yet he perseveres.  This is all due to Christ and to Him alone.  St. Paul knows that all the merit in the world is as nothing compared to the incomparable gift of grace in the Incarnation of Christ, His death upon the Cross, and His Resurrection with power and great glory.  When we acknowledge ourselves to be the weak creatures compared to the sovereign power of God, we open ourselves up to be the grateful beneficiaries of the grace, merits, and goodness of Christ.

You cannot receive anything in a closed fist.  Who of you would cross your arms across your chest and hopes that somebody would let you have your turn to hold the baby?  Who of you would duck your head away when your honey leans close for a kiss?  Who of you would come to Holy Communion and close your hands and your mouth and expect to receive the Body and Blood of our Lord Christ?  You can’t normally receive what you are not open for.  And as St. Paul learned on his way to Damascus, the only way to receive grace when you are not open to it is to be struck blind and knocked to the ground.

As we approach this holy season of Lent, I challenge each one of you to find two things to change your life so that you are more open to receive grace.  I ask you to drop some impediment to God’s grace in your life.  Normally, this is in the form of a Lenten fast.  Have you been hitting the bottle too hard lately?  Drop the booze.  Too much sugar lately?  Cut out the sweets.  Suspect that television, delicacies, or loose talk is interfering with your relationship with God?  Change it up.

I furthermore ask you to add some particular aid to receiving God’s grace this Lent.  Walk the Stations of the Cross every Friday with us.  Say Mattins with us before Sunday School.  Attend a weekday Mass each week.  Make a Lenten Confession.  Dig into your St. Augustine’s Prayer Book and say a devotion to the Sacred Heart each day.

Add one discipline and subtract one distraction and you will see an improvement in your spiritual life this Lent.  I dare you.  Will you dare try?

 

“If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things which concern mine infirmities.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

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“I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

Hell

 

Those words of St. John Baptist build upon the prophecy of Isaiah, where in the fortieth chapter he says:

The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.

St. John Baptist, one of the central figures of Advent, called men to repentance.  The tricky part of calling for repentance is that it assumes a couple of rough things.  First, calling for repentance assumes that there is something to repent from.  In other words, you’re doing something wrong.  Second, calling for repentance assumes that there is a better way.  In other words, I’m doing something right.  Fundamentally, a call for repentance is a call to make a choice.

In Deuteronomy, we read of an earlier choice.  “I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life.”  The whole story of the Bible, from the Law through the Prophets and culminating in Christ, points us the way to righteousness, the way to Heaven, the way to communion with God forever.

But if we may choose life, then there is another way we may choose, and we are free to choose it:  Hell.

 

Speaking of Hell makes us sound like loons.  Nobody in polite society wants to hear us talk about Hell.  But Hell is a central doctrine of the New Testament.  Christ spoke of Hell more than anyone else in the Bible, warning people from Hell to salvation in Him.  Hell is mentioned in the Apostles Creed.  Hell is a reminder that each of us faces an ultimate choice about our fate.  This is impolite.  We want to ignore it.  We want to lock it in the cellar with the red-headed step-child.  We want to ameliorate this doctrine, soften it.  We want to explain it away.  As a child I asked about Hell.  I was told:  ‘There is a Hell, but no one really is in it.  Maybe Hitler.’  Hell is awkward!

It is so awkward, that if we lower the standards for Christianity by removing it, more people will find us more attractive.  Here at our parish, we are committed to growing.  Many of us are praying and thinking hard about what we can do to grow and spread the Kingdom of God.  If we toss aside the doctrine of Hell, then more people here in Augusta will find us palatable.  But those people who would then come here would remain unconverted to the full Gospel of Christ, and we as Anglican Catholics are committed to preaching God’s truth entire.  We have seen all too well the dangers of preaching simply what we like, discarding our Prayer Book and rewriting Church teachings.

When we teach the whole truth and nothing but the truth, we hold up our people to Christ so that they may be truly converted, heart and soul.  But many find holding up the whole truth offensive.  In the days to come, they will find it more and more offensive.  To offer real Christian discipleship to some, many will turn us down.  This too is part of having a choice.

 

Now just because Hell and permanent alienation from God and goodness and joy and life are terribly sad choices doesn’t mean that they aren’t choices.  Therefore, blinding ourselves to the reality that some people make these horrible choices is not noble, it is pathetic.  Hell is a logical, Scriptural, and necessary part of Christian doctrine.  Mature Christians, that is, Baptized and Confirmed adult believers, must sternly look this possibility in the face lest we have no happy effect upon those who have not yet committed their lives to Christ.

Admittedly, choosing is a tricky thing.

This can be seen by the parable of the two sons in St. Matthew xxi:28–31:

A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work to day in my vineyard.  He answered and said, I will not: but afterward he repented, and went.  And he came to the second, and said likewise. And he answered and said, I go, sir: and went not.  Whether of them twain did the will of his father? They say unto him, The first.

Flapping your gums and moving air about, pantomiming pure and soulful answers is easy.  At the end of the day, you get up off your duff and go to work in your father’s vineyard . . . or you don’t.  Christ makes this most clear.

Indeed, Christ speaks of relentlessly evil choices in the parable of the wicked husbandmen in St. Luke xx:9-16:

A certain man planted a vineyard, and let it forth to husbandmen, and went into a far country for a long time.  And at the season he sent a servant to the husbandmen, that they should give him of the fruit of the vineyard: but the husbandmen beat him, and sent him away empty.  And again he sent another servant: and they beat him also, and entreated him shamefully, and sent him away empty.  And again he sent a third: and they wounded him also, and cast him out.  Then said the lord of the vineyard, What shall I do? I will send my beloved son: it may be they will reverence him when they see him.  But when the husbandmen saw him, they reasoned among themselves, saying, This is the heir: come, let us kill him, that the inheritance may be ours.  So they cast him out of the vineyard, and killed him. What therefore shall the lord of the vineyard do unto them?  He shall come and destroy these husbandmen, and shall give the vineyard to others. And when they heard it, they said, God forbid.

Some sinners are unrepentant and choose to continue to sin.  They are relentless in their movement away from Christ and vigorous in their pursuit of self-interest.

In that little gem of a book, The Great Divorce, C. S. Lewis says:

There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell.

Christ is very clear what He would have us do:  Follow Him.  But sometimes laying down your nets and following Christ is not as difficult as it gets.  When the going gets really rough, Christ turns to an equally rough saying in St. Matthew v.30:

And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.

 

But we should not so much seek to avoid Hell as to embrace Christ, and with Him, all goodness, righteousness, health, peace, and life everlasting.  All this, in the presence of God, is Heaven.

What have we to do to gain Heaven and forever lose Hell?  We must participate fully in Christ and His salvation.  In the words of St. Paul in the eighth chapter of Romans:

That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.

Every member we have is ours to make choices with.  But notice here how the apostle focuses on the heart and the mouth.  Our heart is where our treasure is.  If you value more highly your wit, your lineage, your possessions, your politics, or even your family higher than you value Christ, then your heart is not in the right place.

Your heart is where you love.  I love Christ.  I love my wife.  I love my mama.  I love my country.  I love my friends.  But without Christ, none of these loves would stand.  For Christ is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.  He was present at creation, and He knew me in my mother’s womb.  As St. John wrote:  “We love him, because he first loved us.”

I was asked once if a court of law sought to convict me of being a Christian, was there enough evidence to secure a conviction?  A court cannot read my heart, but it sure can hear my words.  Not only must I believe in my heart, but I must confess with my lips.

Here in St. Luke Church, we acknowledge Christ at Mass, Offices, Baptisms, Confirmations, Institutions, and Burials.  And that’s just in worship!  I walk around here and Augusta and hear from your lips the faith you place in Christ.  Well, I hear it from some.  If you aren’t using your lips to confess your faith in Christ on your own time, then I’d say that you have some work you need to get to.

 

My dear sons and daughters, we must believe in our hearts, we must confess with our lips, and we must let go of those things which keep us from Heaven by dragging us down to Hell.  Our respectability, our patriotism, our family, our work, our ideals, the things of this world.  These are usually good things, perhaps even things to which we are called to do.  Yet if we do even one of them to the exclusion of loving Christ first and foremost, then we have given up on living with Him forever.  For Christ must come before our respectability, our patriotism, our family, our work, and our ideals.  And if we are with Christ foremost, then we can rest assured (Romans viii.38-39) “that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

If Christ comes first, then all the rest will follow.  If we put Christ second, then we never had any part of Him.  And that, by definition, is Hell.

 

“I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

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“Pilate therefore said unto him, Art thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

Christ is the High King of Heaven, but He is also our King.  We do not relate much to kings in our dear republic.  A king is a sort of father to his nation.  The nation is his to rule in authority, but he ought to rule in love.  As we may recall from our own Revolution and George III, a king does not always love his subjects as his children.  Christ the King always remembers that we are poor fallible creatures ever prone to sin.  But instead of berating us or damning us, God the Father sent God the Son into the world, taking up our human nature without in any way laying down His divine nature.

Christ loves us.  St. Paul writes in his Epistle to the Ephesians:  “And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour.”

Christ has earned His Kingship, His Lordship over us, but He did not have to earn it, because while Christ is Man, He is God as well, and as God He created the Heavens and the Earth.  We owe Him everything, because everything we have comes from Him.

We are His creatures.  We are His subjects.  And good faithful Christians are His good and faithful servants.

So:  What does it mean for us to be subjects of Christ the King?

Well, we must worship Him.  Worship means that we account Him as worthy; the word worship can be thought of as worth-ship.  We worship Christ every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation in the worship that is not created by His subjects out of our imaginations, but in the Holy Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ.

Not only do we worship Him, we eat and drink Christ; we consume Him, and we become part of Him, just as He is part of us.  He says plainly in the Fourth Gospel:  “He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him.”

Not only do we worship Him and commune with Him, we fast in remembrance of Him every single Friday of the year except in the Holy Season of His Nativity – Christmastide.  We fast before we receive Him in the Body and the Blood.  We abstain from meat because meat is fancier than vegetables and bread, and because Christ gave His own flesh for us.  When we fast, we do not simply refrain from eating something; we remember why we don’t eat something; we remember for Whom we do not eat something.

Not only do we worship Christ our King, commune with Him, and fast for Him, we also remember with our substance that He gave us our lives and everything that we have.  He gave us every single thing that own, both our lives and our possessions.  We are commanded in Scripture, in Malachi, to keep for our use nine-tenths of it.  We offer only a small token of our entire wealth – ten percent – as a memorial for the goodness and riches of God.

Not only do we worship, commune, fast, and tithe, in order to be loyal subjects – not even exceptional subjects, mind you – in order to be loyal subjects of Christ our King we must follow Christ in using our bodies only for God in keeping His Bride the Church’s Law of Marriage.  That is, we must keep ourselves chaste.  We must not commit adultery.  We must not commit fornication.  We must not sexually please ourselves with our own sex or with the opposite sex.  If we are married, we are married for our Lord and King and serve Him in our marriage with our bodies.  If He wills it, we raise up godly children in a godly household.  If we are not married, we remain single for our Lord and King and serve Him in our singleness with our chaste bodies as well.

Not only do we worship, commune, fast, tithe, and remain chaste, but we earnestly search our lives for any disloyalty to Christ our King in our words, our thoughts, and our actions.  When we sin, we commit high treason against the Lord God of the cosmos and against Christ, his only Son, the King of all that is and all that will be.  We confess our sins to Christ, in private, in public worship, and in private sacramental confession.

We confess to Christ, because Christ is not only our King, Christ is our great High Priest.  When we sin against God, we commit treason, have beaten and killed the only Son of the Father.  We have rejected life everlasting and eternal happiness by choosing, by committing, by aiding and abetting the rebellious side of rape, murder, and cancer.  Since we have voted with our selves, our souls and bodies, to kill Christ upon the Cross, we have wandered off by ourselves into the trackless desert of sin without water or shade, where we will surely die.  Christ offers Himself to the Father eternally in Heaven, and only through the Veil of His Holy Flesh can we enter into the Holy of Holies to live with God the Father in Heaven forever, enjoying the fullness of human happiness that we were intended to enjoy since the beginning of time.  Christ is King, and Christ is Priest.

This is why God gave His faithful the priesthood throughout the ages.  The Jews, the Chosen People, enjoyed the Aaronic priesthood.  In His Body, the Church, Christ has instituted the Sacrament of Holy Order and made some of his men into priests.  They are to love the children of God on Earth as he loves them from Heaven.  They are to re-present in divine worship the giving of Christ up to the Father.  They are to teach Christ’s teachings to His people.  They are to show forth the virtues of Christ and to live lives in the Holy Ghost which the people can look to for example.

But while I am a priest and I am your spiritual father here in Augusta, we are also a priestly people who live the life of Christ to the people of this fair city.  Just as we look into the eyes of Christ and see the Father, just as you look into my eyes and see Christ, so all your neighbors look into your eyes and see Christ; indeed, you look into each other’s eyes.

We turn our backs to treason, sin, and death and live fruitful, happy, loving, and productive lives for Christ, in Christ, and on Christ’s behalf.  This means that we obey happily and completely the six basic Duties of Churchmen – worship, communion, fasting, chastity, tithing, and confession.  We exercise and build up our spiritual lives through these Duties and through regular prayer and study of Scripture.  We love our neighbors as ourselves, and serve them as Christ came to serve us.  And in all this, we proclaim Christ’s advent, teaching, passion, death, resurrection, and ascension into Heaven to the right hand of God the Father where right this very second He intercedes for each of us and each of those people out there.

But here’s the thing:  They don’t know that.  Oh, some of them do.  But most have no idea.  Or worse yet, they have just enough of an idea about Christ to think they know all about Him.  They don’t know about living in holiness as an offering or oblation of self to God.  They don’t know that by being stingy with God’s gifts that they dishonor God.  The culture around us tells these valuable people who are precious in the sight of God that all sorts of things are okay which yet dishonor themselves and their God.  The people around us moan and groan in the pains and disappointments of this life but do not have the consolation of the Holy Ghost.  They think that this is all there is.  They don’t think that they are the creatures of a mighty God who loves them, who sent his only-begotten Son into the world to save them.  They thirst for adventure, they hunger for meaning, they thirst for righteousness, when it is all right beneath their nose!

Serving Christ the King is neither comfortable nor convenient.  The only apostle not to be executed, to be martyred, for remaining loyal to Christ was St. John.  That’s a more than 90% mortality rate.  Three days ago I spoke to our missionary bishop of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Militias rage, pillage, and murder across the landscape of that country.  Entire parishes have been wiped out – our brothers, killed, our sisters, raped and killed.  These are not some faraway missionaries, these are Anglican Catholics whose bishop could not save them.  He has a Prayer Book, not an army.

Moslems kill Christians across the globe.  Our Diocese of the South is part of the Original Province.  The Second Province is the Church of India, Pakistan, Burma and Ceylon, which keeps alive the traditional Anglican faith in south Asia.  The son of the Archdeacon of Pakistan keeps watch over his father saying Mass.  He holds an AK-47 in his hands lest they are attacked.  We are blessed to have a faithful old soldier keeping watch over our door, and that he does not need to be armed.

To worship Christ our King as good and faithful subjects, we must worship Him, give Him honor in chastity, generosity, and honesty, and receive His Blessed Sacrament.  But to truly honor Christ, we must look after our brothers and sisters in all their difficulties, from flat tires and unexpected pregnancy to war and famine, and attend to their needs.  Indeed, we must look after all those who do not know Christ enough to repent and be saved, by sharing with them the life-giving Gospel of Christ.  We owe our neighbors and brethren these things not for their sake, but for the sake of Him Who sent us, Who poured us out into the world to obey Him and carry His ministry of love and reconciliation to the ends of the Earth.

My children, Angela and I met our brethren from six of the seven continents this past week.  Looking into our American and Canadian dioceses, I can assuredly tell you that we have many wonderful and flavorful priests and lay folk here.  But all of them belong to one of two fundamental kinds of parishes:  Growing or dying.

Growing parishes have vibrant education and spiritual development.  Dying parishes have nothing but coffee hour.  Growing parishes give generously to missions both foreign and domestic.  Dying parishes scrounge and try to keep the lights on.  Growing parishes welcome every stranger who visits them without clinging to them, serving them in their need.  Dying parishes seek more warm bodies to fill essential positions and to give and pay the heating bill.  Growing parishes tend to be optimistic.  Dying parishes recount horror stories from people long gone.  Growing parishes look at new ways to serve their members and the community.  Dying parishes care primarily about their long-time members and preserving things the way they were.

In Deuteronomy, Moses solemnly charged the congregation of Israel:  “I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live:”

 

“Pilate therefore said unto him, Art thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

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